How to Plan Your Week to Keep Your Weekend Free
“I’ll get that done over the weekend.”
This one sentence has become a one-size-fits-all solution when we can’t fit in working on a project, answering e-mail, or simply knocking items off our to-do lists during the week.
And although it’s true, you can potentially get some work done over the weekend (particularly if you’re someone who is often interrupted and finds that the weekends are a rare oasis of focus), it may not be in your best interest to never give yourself a break from work. If you don’t have some dedicated time off each weekend where you can relax guilt-free, you are setting yourself up for resentment of your work and eventual burnout.
In my own experience and in my work as a time coach, trainer, and the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, I’ve discovered some key benefits to taking weekend time off:
Rest and recovery: We’re human beings-living organisms-not machines. Our bodies and minds and spirits were made to work in cycles of work, rest, and sleep. When you have a sustainable lifestyle, you can consistently be productive throughout the week, but it’s still important to have a day or two completely work-free. Not only does this give your mind and body a rest, but also it gives you the invaluable gift of perspective. The issues that seemed so overwhelming on Friday afternoon are typically much more manageable on Monday because you’re in a better frame of mind to handle them.
Being present: If you have a vague sense that you should work over the weekend but haven’t clearly defined when you are on and off, you can never truly relax. When you’re watching a movie or spending time with your family, you have a nagging guilt that you should be finishing a task for work instead. When you are working, you feel like you’re neglecting your family or missing out on something fun. With the commitment to work on the weekend but the lack of parameters around when to do it, you’re always being tugged in different directions. But if you’ve clearly decided that, no, you’re not going to work over the weekend-or at least during certain parts of the weekend-you free yourself to fully relax and be in the moment during those work-free zones.
Connection: Sure, almost everyone has a busy season where they have to work a few weekends. But if you make it a habit to work every Saturday and Sunday, you’re less likely to make commitments to the important people in your life-and they’re less likely to invite you to get together since you’re “always busy.” By consistently leaving weekend time open to connect with friends and family, you increase the opportunities to form, sustain, and deepen meaningful relationships.
Making progress: Ever wonder why your closet never gets organized, you have a pile of items to mail, and you’re always filing your taxes at the last minute? It could be because you don’t leave enough space in your schedule to get anything done at home because you’re always planning to work. Once you open up the space in your schedule to really complete personal to-do items you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish for yourself in a weekend-and how much better you’ll feel overall.
If you want to experience the benefits of weekend time off, you must smartly invest your time during the week. Waiting until Friday to assess if you’ll have to work Saturday and Sunday will only set you up for another frantic weekend. Plan your time off by following some simple tips at the start of your week.
First, schedule your work. If, when you look at your calendar for the week, you see no free time between meetings to move forward on a project that needs to get done, then it’s unrealistic to think you’ll just “squeeze it in somewhere.” Anything that requires complex thought will need at least 30 minutes, if not more, to really get it done. Instead of hoping that time will magically appear in your schedule, make room by declining meeting invites, rescheduling others for later, or coming into the office earlier or working later during the week. Then, assign projects to these free periods in your calendar and mark the times as busy so that no one can book a meeting over them.
Don’t let others control your time. If someone asks you to take on something new, look at your calendar and see if you have room in your schedule to complete the request before committing to a certain deadline. Avoid the trap of having to spend your weekend answering e-mails by blocking out designated times each day to work through your inbox. E-mail doesn’t need to fill all of your free time between meetings, but it does need some time designated to it.
Frontload your week. Unexpected activities will always come up, and no matter how hard you try to estimate how long work will take, some of your estimates will inevitably be wrong. The solution for these x-factors is not to plan more perfectly but to leave yourself more margin. At the beginning of the week, you can more fully book your schedule, but then you should plan on tapering down your planned activities as the week progresses. Ideally on Friday, at least half of the day should be reserved to wrap up work for the week. This gives you the ability to handle spillover from previous days and answer those last few critical e-mails before unplugging for the weekend.
Finally, make personal plans for the weekend. When you commit to doing something fun, it’s much easier to set priorities so that you can get out of the office on Friday work-free. Whether it’s taking a weekend trip with friends, going on a family outing, or simply meeting a friend for brunch or a run, put commitments on the calendar that will prompt you to spend your time in a way that you find satisfying. It may take some mental urging to break you from your weekend work habit, but the results are worth it. In my experience, I’ve felt conflicted in the moment when one part of me just wants to finish what I’m doing instead of going out and having fun. But once I stop working and spend time with my friends or family, I’m happy with my choice.
The next time you hear yourself thinking, “I’ll get this done over the weekend,” stop yourself and ask, “What can I do so I don’t have to work on the weekend?” You’ll find your work-and your time-to be much more satisfying.